We call ourselves Free Union Grass Farm because the grass is the one thing all our animals eat, and because it is the most local, all natural source of feed available to us, we focus tremendous energy thinking about it. If managed correctly using herbivores and by amending naturally with manure, that grass can actually mitigate the effects of climate change. We think that's pretty exciting stuff.
Just like the grass, our farm is a living organism, one that moves and grows a little each year. In 2010, it began as the shared passion of Joel Slezak and Erica Hellen on 13 acres of family land in Free Union, VA. Now, it's a thriving operation run by its founders and several fabulous farmhands, with livestock traversing over 250 acres of pasture and woods in Albemarle County. In many ways the farm is less a means of producing meat and more a mechanism to pursue an independent life - one that is self-supporting, meaningful, and delicious.
In practice, we orchestrate animals over the landscape in a way that gives back what is taken away, while building soil and minimizing stress. Our techniques rely heavily on observation: how does this piece of land to respond if the cattle are here for a day? Two days? Three? How does the land respond when it's cold, or wet? How much will the animals harvest in the verdant but tender days of spring? Or when it's overgrown in high summer?
Much of what we know we owe to the techniques and writings of Joel Salatin, where Erica was an intern in 2009. Other key influences include Allan Savory, Jim Gerrish, Wes Jackson, Wendall Berry, and Eliot Coleman, not to mention the many farmers and homesteaders we've come across via the magic of social media. But if we're honest, most of what we know has come through many seasons of experience on the land we personally tend. It is the ecosystem we know best, and there is a fluency to be gained in understanding its habits, preferences, and occasional wild hairs.
Although we manage over 250 acres, it is important to mention that we are not raising animals on 250 acres of land every day. We have a base of operations in Free Union that includes our farm stand, our freezers, our brooder, and our processing facility, but each day of the season will find our animals on new ground. We operate by gradually moving the animals over pasture and through the woods, all of which we borrow or lease from generous neighbors. Allowing livestock to intensely impact an area is only optimal if the area is allowed adequate rest, and that rest is only possible if we have adequate acreage to keep our animals moving and eating. For access to that acreage, we are ever grateful to family and friends who understand a well-managed pasture is more beneficial than an empty field.
As we endeavor to sustain a comfortable life, build community, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere into our soils, we have something tangible (and delicious) to show for our efforts: meat and eggs. We look forward to connecting with you and sharing the bounty.